Each April, in commemoration of the sinking of the Titanic, Mr. Jerry D. Neal dons period clothing and takes the stage as Guglielmo Marconi, the father of all wireless communications. Mr. Neal’s portrayal of Guglielmo Marconi is informative, at times humorous, and ultimately poignant as he commemorates a tragic event in which Marconi’s invention of wireless telegraphy played a crucial role.
Guglielmo Marconi, born in 1874 in Italy, is known for his groundbreaking work in early wireless technology. In 1895, at the age of 21, he succeeded in sending wireless signals over a distance of one and a half miles. In 1896 Marconi took his invention to England and later that year was granted the world's first wireless telegraphy patent. Over the course of his lifetime, Marconi would receive an additional four patents for his inventions in the field of wireless technology. He would also be responsible for many other “firsts” in the field of wireless communications. In 1899 he established wireless communication between France and England across the English Channel, and in 1901 he sent the first wireless signals across the Atlantic Ocean between Cornwall and Newfoundland, a distance of 2100 miles. In 1907, the first transatlantic commercial wireless telegraph service was opened between Nova Scotia and Ireland and was operated by Marconi’s Wireless Telegraphy Company, which had been established in 1900. In 1909, Marconi won the Nobel Prize for Physics, shared with Professor Karl Braun. Marconi’s wireless technology played a large role in the resolution of the 1910 North London Cellar Murder and also contributed to the saving of 700 lives in the disastrous 1912 sinking of the Titanic. Marconi continued his experiments with wireless signals over the next two decades, focusing on utilizing shorter and shorter waves, which would later develop into radar technology. He continued his work with wireless technology until his death in 1937.
Two events in history were crucial in establishing the positive reputation of Marconi and that of his wireless technology. The first, the 1910 North London Cellar Murder, began in London, England and was ultimately resolved in Quebec, Canada with the aid of wireless communication. After attempting to conceal the murder of his wife, Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen fled London with his mistress and boarded a transatlantic ship to Canada. The captain of the ship recognized the pair and had a wireless telegraph message sent to alert British authorities on land. One of the detectives for the murder case boarded a faster ship, arrived in Quebec before Dr. Crippen and his mistress, and arrested the pair upon their arrival in Canada. Dr. Crippen was the first criminal to be captured with the aid of wireless communication.
The second, more well-known event is the 1912 sinking of the Titanic. The two telegraph operators aboard the liner, Harold Bride and Jack Phillips, were employed by Marconi’s Wireless Telegraphy Company and not the White Star Line Company, which owned and operated the Titanic. While on duty, Bride and Phillips were mainly responsible for sending messages for passengers on board the ship. However, they were required to maintain 24-hour operation of the wireless telegraph set. After the Titanic hit the iceberg and the danger was understood, Phillips and Bride continued to send out distress messages to nearby ships until the final moments of the Titanic’s sinking. Despite the tremendous loss of life due to the sinking of the ship, those passengers who survived owed their lives to the wireless telegraph technology on board and to Marconi for his miraculous invention.
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